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Markus Reuter: (R)Evolutionary Touch Guitarist

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AAJ: How did you meet 05ric and decide to do a project together? Are you familiar with his two recordings with Gavin Harrison? What appeals to you about those recordings that made you want to work with Ric? What do you think of the Extended Dynamic Range bass and how do you compare it to the touch guitar you use? Can you list any similarities/differences/approach/styles that you would like to detail?

MR: 05ric has been a Tuner fan for a long time, and he kept asking me to work with him for at least three years before I gave in and finally sent him some material to work with. His original idea was to have a band with him, Gavin, Pat, and me. He had also invited Trey Gunn to contribute when we started working as a duo in 2009.

I did not totally get into the two albums Ric released with Gavin Harrison for these reasons: there's a sonic density that is hard on my ears (I'm very sensitive), and harmonic grounding was missing for me. So when Ric requested me to send him musical ideas, including "soundscapes" (by this I mean 'guitar-based loop compositions'), I felt confident that those would inform his compositional process in a positive way. Ric confirmed this in later discussions. In the end Ric played almost all the drums on the album (except for one loop from Gavin), too, and he's doing an amazing job. I'm very happy with how the blld material prima mini-album turned out, and I actually listen to it for pleasure. We pronounce blld" as "build," but the name (for me) comes from the words "ballad" and "blood."

Ric's guitar/bass-playing comes from a completely different place than mine. For me playing is just a tool, but for Ric it's much more about personal expression. He's what people call a natural player, and he uses the Touch Guitar (he has also picked up the U8 as his instrument of choice, btw) as much as a conventional guitar and bass as he does as a tapping instrument. I'm more about refining the touch-style approach, and I practice the instrument more as an exercise in meditation rather than with musical aims in mind. That is, in my practice I work on details like for example specific movements of the fingers, and my approach more closely resembles something like a martial art. I don't have the urge to play music all the time. I enjoy the reduction to the basics and the kinesthetic aspect of working with the touch guitar.

AAJ: Please describe your long-standing working relationship/friendship with centrozoon and Tim Bowness. How did centrozoon get together, and why does it still remain an appealing concept for you? What recordings would you consider watershed and why?

MR: centrozoon was Bernhard Wöstheinrich's project, initially. I joined in the mid-nineties, at which point other remaining members left the band. Bernhard and I then worked on what became the core sound of centrozoon, which is based in experimental improvisation. In the early 2000s, we had a relatively short but exciting stint working with Tim Bowness, who joined us as singer and lyricist. The initial sessions with Tim were as experimental as the centrozoon duo, but in the production process the music got molded into a form of modern prog-electronica.

I just spoke with Tim the other day, and he suggested the rerelease of the albums we produced together, as well as the DVD of a live concert that was filmed in 2002. There is potential for a reunion with Tim in the future, but the next step for centrozoon is an album with new member Tobias Reber, a Swiss sound-artist. The centrozoon recording I consider watershed is definitely the cult of: bibbiboo (Unsung, 2002) . It was recorded in the year 2000, but so far has not lost any of its freshness and uniqueness.

AAJ: Please describe your working relationship with Robert Rich. How did you first meet Robert and determine there was an interest in working together? What is it about his approach to ambient and space music that makes him a strong collaborator? Are you planning on working on any new projects?

MR: The collaboration with Robert came out of mutual respect for each other. I think it was Ian Boddy who put us in touch initially, or maybe a guy from one of the American labels I'm working with. Anyway, we met at Robert's place in Mountain View, California, and conceived, composed, and recorded the album Eleven Questions (Unsung, 2007) in just six days. Robert is one of those true geniuses who are very good at almost everything. He's got an abundance of energy, and he is the kind of perfectionist that I enjoy working with. Nothing but the best is what he's after. He's also such a joy to be around.

We've actually worked on a couple of projects together after our collaboration album. There's an Estonian duo called UMA whose debut CD I produced. Robert was part of the team and mixed and mastered the album. Robert also mixed my work "Todmorden 513," which was a challenge because of the scale of the composition. Robert likes starting mixes with all the faders up, which was quite overwhelming with the seventy-plus tracks (most of which were sub-mixes already) of "Todmorden 513." It goes without saying that Robert tamed the beast and his mix is all and more than I had hoped for.

AAJ: Please describe your evolution/journey as artist from using a guitar to Chapman Stick to Warr Guitar and then your own guitar design, the U8.

MR: When playing guitar and keyboards in my teens I never felt I had to practice, so I never practiced. My talent was sufficient for covering what was needed. But when I started out on Chapman Stick in early 1993, I realized that I have to practice a lot in order to get anywhere on that instrument. This is something that I now realize was also related to the nature of the instrument, which has more of an "invention" than "instrument" character. This also shows in the fact that there's a certain idiom and 'way you should play' attached to the Stick (and, to an extent, to the Warr Guitar), which has always been and still is off-putting for me.

So, after having spent time with both 10- and 12-string Sticks, I made the switch to 8-string Warr Guitar in '97 or '98. Eight strings, tuned in fifths, cover the full musical range and still feel like "one instrument" rather than two instruments turned into one. And, since I've always seen myself as a composer and ensemble player, going for eight strings was most natural. I explored the instrument playing live and in the studio with the Europa String Choir (with Cathy Stevens, Alessandro Bruno and Udo Dzierzanowski), and we released an album on Robert Fripp's DGM label in the year 2000. The album, Lemon Crash (DGM Live, 2000), was mixed by David Bottrill, who I later worked with more closely when producing the Tovah Escapologist record.

In 2008, I started designing my own instrument with American luthier Ed Reynolds. I registered the brand Touch Guitars® and the top of the line model, called the U8, went into production after I tested the prototype for almost a year. The idea was to produce a musical instrument that is entirely based in the tradition of guitar-building, and that is also informed by my inside knowledge about the playing technique. After almost fifteen years of playing this kind of instrument, I finally understood that none of the existing builders actually plays the instrument well enough, and so I was curious about what I would come up with. I was also lucky to work with one of the great luthiers, Ed Reynolds, who's known for working as a consultant for several first class guitar companies.

AAJ: Can you describe the basis of what I would call the "international touch guitar community"? How do other players interact? Is there camaraderie between players?

MR: I've been involved in the scene for a long time, and while there are quite a few wonderful and unifying aspects, the development of the playing technique and the development of a tradition has been made very difficult by certain factors, like the abovementioned musical idiom and, most horribly, certain 'unhealthy' looks and mannerisms that people adopt when starting out to play. There are too few good and accepted role models around these days.

In the mid-nineties, I started writing a column in the TouchStyle Quarterly magazine, which was issued by Frank Jolliffe, and soon after, I started working with a first study group of mostly Spanish players. The basic work we started back then was the cradle of "The Family," the approach I'm now teaching. I have several long-time students that work with "The Family," which uses the relationships within a family to metaphorically describe the often-contradictory aspects of the touch-style technique.

There are exercises called "The Mother," "The Father," "The Son," "The Black Sheep," etc, all of which are interrelated and very effective. We're not studying music as such, but working on movements. In early 2009, the Touch Guitar Circle was founded, and we're meeting regularly to work together and to refine and expand 'The Family.'

Recently, Trey Gunn has also been teaching, and he's using modern technology like Skype for it. Trey and I have also started making attempts at sharing our knowledge with each other. Trey is coming from the perspective of a great player, where I'm more focused on analytical aspects.

The Touch Guitar Circle has recently introduced "working-at-a-distance" to our tool box, and we've complete a couple of courses using this approach already. I really feel something has been set in motion here, and we're looking forward to having more people working with us.

AAJ: How did your recent recording project with Toyah [This Fragile Moment] come together?

MR: It was initiated by Dr. Margus Laidre, former Estonian ambassador in London. I had first met Toyah and Chris Wong when touring Estonia with Tuner and The Humans in October 2007. Margus called for a meeting in a hotel in Tartu in May 2009, the day after The Humans had their debut performance with Robert Fripp. All the becoming members of This Fragile Moment were present and we decided on a concept then. Just a few weeks later we all got back together in a studio in Tallinn and recorded the album.

AAJ: In your collaboration with Toyah, which pieces began as lyrical prose and vocal before a rhythm track was added? How long did it take to do the recording?

MR: All the musical and lyrical material was improvised live in the studio. No overdubs. I think we recorded about 30 to 40 pieces in three days. Only a small selection of tracks made it onto the album. There's enough material for another album, I think.

The production and mixing process were very time-consuming and difficult, also because there was no budget. The recording was very rough and mostly lo-fi since we recorded in a single room and didn't use headphones. So there was enormous bleed on all the microphones, including the vocal mike, which was giving me a headache. Arvo Urb was responsible for the initial choice of the material to be used for the album. I then took over and restored the recordings and mixed them in "audio verité" fashion; that is, I tried to be true to the way it sounded in the room. I think it's sounding pretty good given the circumstances.
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